Category Archives: energy

Oil and Water: The Spoils of the Libyan War

The real battle over Libya’s future has less to do with opposing political factions than with which foreign players will gain control of the country’s natural resources–oil, natural gas, and water. Europe’s leading oil firms are busy jockeying for position in the impending division of the spoils, while insiders watch for China to make its move.Overlooking it all is a growing US  network of drones which could well be the forerunner of a new,aggressive American military presence on the African continent.

A decision on Friday by the UN Security Council frees  the Libyan national oil company of restraints on its financial operations, which  opens up Libya’s ability to pay for reconstruction. That process ought to get a  further lift from Obama’s meeting on Tuesday with the interim government leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil and his decision to reopen the US embassy in Tripoli

Libya currently produces 2 percent of the world’s oil, but two  things make it a more formidable player in the world market than the numbers  would indicate. One is its location, a short trip across the Mediterranean from  Italy, France, and Spain, with ready access to European energy markets. The  other is the fact that Libya has substantial known reserves–the largest in  Africa, and ninth largest in the world–yet most of the country remains “underexplored” and unmapped, offering the possibility of  even greater supplies in the future.

To date, Italy has been the largest beneficiary of Libyan oil  supplies, for a number of reasons. The Italians invaded and colonized Libya in 1911, left it in tatters following the big tank battles of World War II, and in recent years has emerged as a major force in its oil economy and foreign policy. Before the revolt, Berlusconi enjoyed warm relations with Qadaffi. Italy and Libya worked hand in hand in an effort to slow the flow of immigrants from the Red Sea and northern Africa into Europe with the Italian coast guard intercepting boatloads crossing the Mediterranean through the Italian island of Lampedusa, which lies off the Libyan coast below Sicily. Italy also drew one third of its entire oil supply from this former colony.  ENI, the Italian oil giant, is the largest foreign oil company in Libya. Recently Russia’s Gazprom joined ENI in a joint venture to drill for oil under the desert.

The giant international oil companies are socked into Libya and they all have been vying for oil and gas throughout the fighting. According to a report in the Guardian, the London oil trading firm Vitol was in close touch with the rebels, arranging fuel supplies. The new interim government has said France, Britain, and Italy will get favorable treatment compared to China and Russia. Liberation, the French newspaper, reported that Sarkozy cut a deal with the rebels in which France would get 35 percent of the country’s oil in return for military assistance—on the face of it, a pretty wild claim.

ENI’s chief executive officer, Paolo Scaroni, told the Wall Street Journal  earlier this month that the new Libyan government insists it will honor existing contracts. The AP reported executives from Repsol, the Spanish oil firm, were in Benghazi discussing restoring existing operations. Total, the French firm, is preparing to re-enter as well.

Actually the key factor in this game could turn out to be not so much oil, but natural gas. Right now Russia has a near monopoly on gas going into Europe and at an exorbitant price, but its reliability in winter months is questioned. Libyan exports of gas through the Greenstream pipeline to Sicily, also run by ENI, have been increasing. Some industry commentators suggest that natural gas exports might dramatically expand so that Libya acts as a counterweight to the Russians. That, at least, seems to be how the Russians, who stayed well clear of the NATO air attacks, see the situation. According to the AP:

Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, described its former Cold War rival’s intervention in Libya as legitimate because it was aimed at protecting civilians, but he said Russia believes the underlying reason was access to Libyan oil.

“For Russia, NATO’s operation in Libya indicated that the major interests of the alliance now lay not in Europe’s East — where its adversaries the Warsaw Treaty Pact and the Soviet Union used to be — but in oil-rich lands of Northern Africa and the Middle East,” Rogozin said in an email.

It seems hard to believe existing oil arrangements—some 50 companies have been engaged in the Libyan oil business–will be seriously affected by Quadaffi’s exit, but the sleeper here is China, which already is ensconced in the Libyan economy, and according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail, offered Quadaffi armaments during the war. These included shoulder-held rockets similar to the U.S. Stinger. They were to be shipped through Algeria or South Africa.

Libya now is China’s eleventh largest source of imports. And before the revolt, 36,000 Chinese were working on 50 different projects within the country. China played both sides during the revolt. While it was peddling arms to Quadaffi, Ma Zhaouxu, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, issued a statement saying, “The Chinese side respects the choice of the Libyan people.
The Chinese side is willing to work with the international community to play a
positive role in the reconstruction process of Libya in the future.’’

Water presents an equally controversial subject in Libya. Quadaffi’s ambitious Great Man Made River, a 2,333 mile network of irrigation pipes drawing water from acquifers beneath the southern desert and turning the arid wastes into lush farmlands. It sounds like a project imported straight from the Colorado river whose diversion has transformed much of the US desert west into into green farmlands and pleasing suburban front lawns. And, in fact, it was Armand Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum that seems to have introduced earlier and smaller versions of this irrigation scheme.

There is one big hitch to this water project. The desert aquifers, as Sandra Postel of Worldwatch, points out in her book Last Oasis, were filled with water 30,000 years ago when there was considerably more rainfall than there is today. In examining this project, engineers now predict the desert aquifers will be sucked dry within 40-60 years. The water will all have been pumped up to the Mediterranean coast for agriculture.The original coastal water sources have been exhausted. So, by then the food and water purchased with oil money will be gone and the whole thing will go down in history as folly.

To defend against such an eventuality Quadaffi looked further afield to line up more water. He hit on Mali a poor country, which up to the present time, was made self sustainable by prudent use of shallow ground water wells. Fred Pearce in Environment 360, a Yale publication, describes the sorry story of what happened when Quadaffi fixed his gaze on Mali:

Libya’s wholesale move into Malian irrigation and agriculture is the result of a secret deal between Mali’s president, Amadou Toumani Toure, and Libya’s Colonel Gadaffi. Paid for by Gadaffi’s sovereign investment fund, the Libya Africa Portfolio Fund for Investment, the deal hands the land to a Libyan-controlled organization called Malibya for 50 years and gives the Libyans undisclosed rights to the region’s water. Why would the Mali president sign up to this?

Local campaigners say their government is in thrall — and hock — to Libya because it has become dependent on Libya for aid and investment. Many of its civil servants work in offices built by Libya, and international visitors stay at Libyan-built hotels. And, says Lamine Coulibaly, head of communications for the Mali small farmers’ union, CNOP, the government is so obsessed with getting investment for its agriculture that it cannot see when that investment will do more harm than good to its people.

The infrastructure for agribusiness is in place, and if Libya manages to siphon off water from sub-Saharan Africa into growing crops for Europe and likely the United States, it will be a major player in food as well as fossil fuel supplies. All this will provide the money for the new government, which may or may not provide some form of limited democratic rule.ilitary

There is another aspect to the future of Libya and that has to do with US military ambitions in Africa. These are driven by determination  to root out terrorrists;\ over the long term,they may well be intended to check China which sees Africa as a fuels bin and already has built up an  expansive economic network on the continent.The Washington Post’s report Wednesday morning of growing US drone operations in Africa suggests an expanded US military presence on the continent where heretofore it has been minimal.

Japan Sacrificing Its Elders to Nuclear Fallout

Having utterly failed to anticipate the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster following the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government and its parasite nuclear industry plod along amidst a worsening situation. They’ve dumped coolants from helicopters, brought in huge cranes, dug holes– all to no avail. They’ve tried humans in the form of nuclear plant workers, but they have begun to die by the ones and twos. In the meantime, there has been no serious consideration of criminal indictments against the government and industry officials responsible for this incredible industrial failure.

Finally they’ve been handed a genius solution: mass suicide by old people in the spirit of national pride. These volunteers will willingly march forward into the valley of death.  If they get cancer, the thinking goes, it won’t hit them until they are dead anyhow. And they will provide a valuable service to society: saving the young men and women  so they can procreate and provide labor for years to come. And it’s all being done amidst a wonderful flowering of national patriotism.

The death march of the old is described in the New York Times.

Seemingly against logic, Yasuteru Yamada, 72, is eager for the chance to take part. After seeing hundreds of younger men on television struggle to control the damage at the Daiichi power plant, Mr. Yamada struck on an idea: Recruit other older engineers and other specialists to help tame the rogue reactors.

Not only do they have some of the skills needed, but because of their advanced age, they are at less risk of getting cancer and other diseases that develop slowly as a result of exposure to high levels of radiation. Their volunteering would spare younger Japanese from dangers that could leave them childless, or worse.

“We have to contain this accident, and for that, someone should do the work,” said Mr. Yamada, a retired plant engineer who had worked for Sumitomo Metal Industries. “It would benefit society if the older generation took the job because we will get less damage from working there.”

Japanese report Fukushima Fallout reached US and Europe

Mainichi Daily News of June 25,2011 suggests the extent of the radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear facility. I have already run various bits and pieces of information to show the range of radiactivity. This is another suggestive report.

Radioactive materials spewed out from the crippled Fukushima No. 1  Nuclear Power Plant reached North America soon after the meltdown and  were carried all the way to Europe, according to a simulation by  university researchers.”

More detail from the report:

The computer simulation by researchers at Kyushu University and the  University of Tokyo, among other institutions, calculated dispersal of  radioactive dust from the Fukushima plant beginning at 9 p.m. on March  14, when radiation levels around the plant spiked.

The team found that radioactive dust was likely caught by the jet  stream and carried across the Pacific Ocean, its concentration dropping  as it spread. According to the computer model, radioactive materials at a  concentration just one-one hundred millionth of that found around the  Fukushima plant hit the west coast of North America three days later,  and reached the skies over much of Europe about a week later.

According to the research team, updrafts in a low-pressure system  passing over the disaster-stricken Tohoku region on March 14-15 carried  some of the radioactive dust that had collected about 1.5 kilometers  above the plant to an altitude of about 5 kilometers. The jet stream  then caught the dust and diffused it over the Pacific Ocean and beyond.

 

Infant Mortality on Pacific Coast Jumped after Fukushima

Ever since radioactive leaks were reported at the Fukushima nuclear power facility on the northeast Japanese coast following the earthquake and tsunami, American officialdom has stolidy insisted that no matter what, radioactive fallout from Japan would have no effect on the US.  Pacific currents flowing past Fukushima and winds circulating overhead go across the  Pacific and onto the Pacific coast. As the Japanese balloon bomb attacks during World War II demonstrated, the prevailing winds carried the balloons far into the middle of the continent.But the US apparently  considers the winds and ocean currents to be  of scant significance. The government doesn’t test fish along the northern Pacific coast.It insists increases in radioactive fallout across the continental US are slight and of no threat to health. Charts plotting the course of tsunami debris across the Pacific towards the US are seen as of little consequence..

   Nonetheless, questions remain,especially in light of the fact that Japanese officials now say  three Fukushima reactors suffered meltdown, accompanied by leaks into the air ,ground water and closeby Pacific ocean

  This from a recent Washington Post piece:

 N uclear fuel at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant began melting just five hours after Japan’s March 11 earthquake, a Japanese nuclear engineer told a panel of U.S. scientists Thursday.About 11 hours later, all of the uranium fuel in the facility’s unit 1 reactor had slumped to the bottom of its inner containment vessel, boring a hole through a thick steel lining, the University of Tokyo’s Naoto Sekimura told a committee of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sekimura’s assessment further damages the credibility of the plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco). This week, the company admitted for the first time that nuclear fuel in three of the plant’s reactors had melted — a conclusion that independent scientists had reached long ago

   Last week Washington blog picked up and printed the following report,which raises more questions. “Now, writes the blog, “ a physician (Janette D. Sherman, M. D.) and epidemiologist (Joseph Mangano) have penned a short but horrifying essay asking whether a spike in infant deaths in the Northwest are due to Fukushima”:

The recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that eight cities in the northwest U.S. (Boise ID, Seattle WA, Portland OR, plus the northern California cities of Santa Cruz, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, and Berkeley) reported the following data on deaths among those younger than one year of age:

4 weeks ending March 19, 2011 – 37 deaths (avg. 9.25 per week)
10 weeks ending May 28, 2011 – 125 deaths (avg.12.50 per week)

This amounts to an increase of 35% (the total for the entire U.S. rose about 2.3%), and is statistically significant. Of further significance is that those dates include the four weeks before and the ten weeks after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster. In 2001 the infant mortality was 6.834 per 1000 live births, increasing to 6.845 in 2007. All years from 2002 to 2007 were higher than the 2001 rate.

***

Data from Chernobyl, which exploded 25 years ago, clearly shows increased numbers of sick and weak newborns and increased numbers of deaths in the unborn and newborns, especially soon after the meltdown. These occurred in Europe as well as the former Soviet Union. Similar findings are also seen in wildlife living in areas with increased radioactive fallout levels.
(Chernobyl – Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, Alexeiy V. Yablokov, Vasily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko. Consulting Editor: Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger. New York Academy of Sciences, 2009.)

Levels of radioisotopes were measured in children who had died in the Minsk area that had received Chernobyl fallout. The cardiac findings were the same as those seen in test animals that had been administered Cs-137. Bandashevsky, Y. I, Pathology of Incorporated Ionizing Radiation, Belarus Technical University, Minsk. 136 pp., 1999. For his pioneering work, Prof. Bandashevsky was arrested in 2001 and imprisoned for five years of an eight year sentence.

***

Why should we care if there may be is a link between Fukushima and the death of children? Because we need to measure the actual levels of isotopes in the environment and in the bodies of people exposed to determine if the fallout is killing our most vulnerable. The research is not technically difficult – the political and economic barriers may be greater. Bandshevsky and others did it and confirmed the connection. The information is available in the Chernobyl book. (Previously cited.)The biological findings of Chernobyl cannot be ignored: isotope incorporation will determine the future of all life on earth – animal, fish, bird, plant and human. It is crucial to know this information if we are to avoid further catastrophic damage.

Tropical Storm Rains Bring Floods to Fukushima Region

There is a growing sense that the Japanese either can’t or won’t do anything to  get the radiation from the stricken nuclear facility at Fukushima under control..Over the weekend,with a typhoon approaching, the company simply said it didn’t know what to do.The typhoon was downgraded to a tropical storm,but the heavy rains have caused flood alerts, and fears of landslides.  Radiation-tainted water levels  seem sure to rise.

A BBC report of May 28:

 Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is not fully prepared for heavy
rain and winds of a typhoon heading towards the country, officials admit.Tokyo
Electric Power (Tepco), which runs the plant, said some reactor buildings were
uncovered, prompting fears the storm may carry radioactive material into the
air and sea.’’

The Japanese quite openly admit their attempts to control spreading radiation
have not been successful.   More from the BBC:

Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is not fully prepared for heavy rain and winds of a typhoon heading towards the country, officials
admit. Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which runs the plant, said some reactor buildings were uncovered, prompting fears the storm may carry
radioactive material into the air and sea……

“We have made utmost efforts, but we have not completed covering the damaged reactor buildings,” a Tepco official said on Saturday.

“We apologise for the lack of significant measures against wind and rain,” the official added.

Tepco has been pouring anti-scattering agents – such as synthetic resins – around the damaged buildings of reactors one and four.

But some of the buildings still remain uncovered after they were damaged by hydrogen explosions soon after the quake and tsunami struck.

A special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan criticised Tepco, saying that the current safety measures “cannot be said to be appropriate”.

Adviser Goshi Hosono added: “We are now doing the utmost to prevent further spreading of radioactive materials”.

Japan Times reported Monday evening that the typhoon, now
downgraded to a tropical storm, is bringing heavy rains and flooding to the
nuclear disaster area.

   Heavy rain caused by the remains of Typhoon Songda posed multiple landslide threats Monday in areas hit by the March 11 disasters, prompting local authorities to go on alert.Several areas already had been flooded by the morning and dozens of cars were trapped on overflowing roads in Sendai’s Wakabayashi Ward and in the nearby city of Iwanuma, both in Miyagi Prefecture.

The ground in some areas sank several centimeters during the massive quake, which shifted the island’s position in the Pacific Ocean. This made many areas vulnerable for the first time to high tides and heavy rain.’

 

Meanwhile, the overall situation looks worse,not better. Another Chernobyl seems assured.

Bloomberg today (May 30)

  Radioactive soil in pockets of areas near Japan’s crippled
nuclear plant have reached the same level as Chernobyl, where a “dead zone”
remains 25 years after the reactor in the former Soviet Union exploded.

Soil samples in areas outside the 20-kilometer (12 miles) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant measured more than 1.48 million becquerels a square meter, the standard used for evacuating residents after the Chernobyl accident, Tomio Kawata, a fellow at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, said in a research report published May 24 and given to the government.

Radiation from the plant has spread over 600 square kilometers (230 square miles), according to the report. The extent of contamination shows the government must move fast to avoid the same future for the area around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant as Chernobyl, scientists said. Technology has improved since the 1980s, meaning soil can be decontaminated with chemicals or by planting crops to absorb radioactive materials, allowing residents to return.

“We need to finish this treatment as quickly as possible, within three years at most,” Tetsuo Iguchi, a specialist in isotope analysis and radiation detection at
Nagoya University in central Japan, said in a telephone interview. “If we take
longer, people will give up on returning to their homes.”

 

Typhoon Approaching Stricken Japanese Nuclear Plant

An approaching Typhoon has set off new alarms at the damaged Japanese nuclear Fukushima complex. This from Bloomberg

 Typhoon Songda strengthened to a supertyphoon after battering the Philippines and headed forJapan on a track that may pass over the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant by May 30, a U.S. monitoring center said.

Songda’s winds increased to 241 kilometers (150 miles) per hour from 213 kph yesterday, the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center said on its website. The storm’s eye was about 240 kilometers east of Aparri in the Philippines at 8 a.m. today, the center said. Songda was moving northwest at 19 kph and isforecast to turn to the northeast and cross the island of Okinawa by 9 p.m. local time tomorrow before heading for Honshu.

The center’s forecast graphic includes a possible path over Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which has been spewing radiation since March 11 when an earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems. Three of six reactor buildings have no roof after explosions blew them off, exposing spent fuel pools and containment chambers that are leaking.

“We are still considering typhoon measures and can’t announce detailed plans yet,” Takeo Iwamoto, a spokesman at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said by phone when asked about the storm. The utility known as Tepco plans to complete the installation of covers for the buildings by October, he said.

 

Japanese Nuclear Disaster Worsens

The Japanese nuclear disaster has all but faded from the news.Most people would just as soon forget about it.Journalists who write about it are  viewed as  alarmists, to put it politely, or conspiracy freaks .

The situation worsens. This from Bloomberg:

Radiation readings at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi station rose to the highest since an earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems, impeding efforts to contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Two robots sent into the reactor No. 1 building at the plant yesterday took readings as high as 1,120 millisierverts of radiation per hour, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co., said today. That’s more than four times the annual dose permitted to nuclear workers at the stricken plant.

Radiation from the station, where four of six reactors have been damaged by explosions, has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and contaminated farmland and drinking water. A plan to flood the containment vessel of reactor No. 1 with more water to speed up emergency cooling efforts announced yesterday by the utility known as Tepco may not be possible now.

“Tepco must figure out the source of high radiation,” said Hironobu Unesaki, a nuclear engineering professor at Kyoto University. “If it’s from contaminated water leaking from inside the reactor, Tepco’s so-called water tomb may be jeopardized because flooding the containment vessel will result in more radiation in the building.”

Still, the Japanese power plant management remains sanguine:

Reactors 1 and 2 are less damaged than estimated, Tepco said in a statement today.As much as 55 percent of the No. 1 reactor core at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station was damaged, compared with its earlier estimate of 70 percent.

“We revised the core damage data because some readings on the containment vessel monitors were wrong,” Matsumoto said. “There was also a recording mistake. We are investigating why this happened.”The assessment for the No. 2 reactor was cut to 25 percent from 35 percent, while that for the No. 3 unit was raised to 30 percent from 25 percent.

“It seems a reasonable estimate that three reactor cores may be damaged to a similar extent,” said Unesaki. The new estimate “doesn’t indicate lower or higher risks at the plant.”

Radiation in Tokyo’s water supply fell to undetectable levels for the first time since March 18, the capital’s public health institute said today.The level of iodine-131 in tap water fell to zero yesterday, and cesium-134 and cesium-137 also weren’t detected, the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health said today.Tokyo residents were told on March 23 that the city’s water was unsafe for infants after iodine and cesium levels exceeded guidelines.